Sean McGuire

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Sean McGuire (26 December 1927 – 24 March 2005) was a former All Ireland fiddle champion. He was from Belfast.


McGuire was only fourteen when his violin playing was broadcast for the first time on BBC radio. In 1949 at the age of only twenty-one, he won the Oireachtas (pronounced "err-OCTH-us"), the All-Ireland musical championship held annually in Dublin) with the only perfect score ever awarded in the long history of the competition. In the 1950s, he became part of a major touring group called the Malachy Sweeney Ceili Band; later he helped form the Sean McGuire Ceili Band and the Four Star Quartet.[1] Through the 1960s he was a leading member of the Gael-Linn Cabaret.

In the days before the Chieftains assumed the role, McGuire sometimes served as Irish musics cultural ambassador. He has appeared throughout Europe, and he has been named "Grande Artiste" of the Soviet Union. When he toured the US in 1952, he was asked to appear on such classic American variety programs as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Arthur Godfrey Show. He was also honoured by the Wurlitzer Co. of New York City, who not only invited him to play the Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins in their possession, but also to enter his name (alongside those of Fritz Kreisler and Yehudi Menuhin) in their "golden book" of master violinists.

Over the years, McGuire's name has become synonymous in Irish traditional fiddling with excellent musicianship. He has composed many pieces for the idiom, and written countless classic variations ; not only for the aforementioned "Masons Apron" ; but also for such common tunes as "The Poppy Leaf," "The Bees Wing," "The Reconciliation," "The Boys of the Lough," and "The Golden Eagle." Among his many innovations to the playing of traditional Irish music have been the practice of using sophisticated key modulations (changes) within a piece, the adaptation of advanced classical bowing techniques, and the use of up-the-neck violin "positions."

In terms of training, ambitions, and outlook, McGuire is certainly comparable to a major figure in Scottish fiddling history named James Scott Skinner (1843–1927). Skinner, too, sought to widen the scope of his native fiddling and increase its regard internationally. He created important sets of variations, and incorporated up-the- neck positions and sophisticated bowing techniques into traditional music. He was celebrated in his own time, and to this day his variations are reproduced note for note by traditional musicians in both Scotland and Cape Breton.

Because McGuire lived in a different era and worked in a different tradition than Skinner, he has for the most part been a much more controversial figure. Even before Skinner came along, Scottish fiddling had a long tradition of virtuosi who were equally at home in both the art and folk traditions. Moreover, the long history of Scottish tune-publication created a respect both for the written note and for those artists who approached the music from a learned perspective.

Irish music before the time of McGuire, on the other hand, was still pretty much an oral music culture. As we shall see, there was even a strong feeling among some that a musician with McGuires training and outlook could not possibly perform Irelands traditional music in an authentic manner. Certainly, there was a lot of resistance among musicians of "the old school" to some of McGuire's innovations. One story along these lines was imparted to me by piper/tin whistler Bill Ochs of New York City. When McGuire landed at a house party in Philadelphia some years ago at which traditional fiddler John Vesey was already holding court, the latter is said to have stood up and remarked, "There will be no playing in the flat keys in this house tonight!"

Listen to an original recording of Irish fiddle master Sean McGuire (Maguire) playing some tunes in his own original style. He was regarded as one of the finest musicians of his day. Maguire's great drive and tone were thought to be due to the ease with which he was able to make his classical violin education and keen ear for Irish music work so well together. Like many of his generation he believed that the music encouraged a more contented life. His gift for music helped interest in Irish culture spread throughout the world. The lively spirit of the natural way he played as a young man would do you good to hear..


This section was founded on entries listed in this Outlet discography. Additional information was added from sources as cited below.

In chronological order, as a primary artist:

  • Seán McGuire and Roger Sherlock, Two Champions, Outlet SOLP 1002. Released under at least two other titles, including as Sean McGuire, Irish Traditional Fiddling Outlet SOLP 1002, 1969. With Roger Sherlock (flute), Josephine Keegan (piano). Recorded in Belfast. Later reissued as Outlet PTICD 1002. Contents: Cronin's fancy ; Tom Ward's downfall (reels) – Two reevy's (reels) – Cas AN Tugan (slow air) – Slievenamon (hornpipe) – Duke of Leinster and his wife (flute solo) – Pullet wants cock (jig) – Dairymaid ; Holy Land (reels) – Jackie Colemans ; Rogers Fancy (reels) – Golden ring (jig) – Se fearr mo mhuire (slow air) – Two Andy McGann's (reels) – Mamas pet (flute solo) – Banks (hornpipe) – Hinchie's delight ; Tone Rowe's (jigs).[2][3]
  • Seán McGuire and Josephine Keegan, Champion of Champions, Outlet SOLP 1005, 1969 (also as audiocassette). Reissued as Outlet PTICD 1005. Contents: 1. Cronin's reels – 2. Key West (hornpipe) – 3. Poppy leaf; McCormack's (hornpipes) – 4. The Coulin – 5. Carolan's concerto – 6. Maids of Tulla (reel) – 7. Ned of the hill – 8. Strike the gay harp (jig) – 9. Harvest home; The high level (hornpipes) – 10. Jenny's welcome to Charlie (reel) – 11. O'Rourke's; The wild Irishman (reels) – 12. Dear Irish boy (slow air) – 13. Planxty McGuire – 14. Centenary; Triumphal; O'Neill's (marches).[4]
  • Seán McGuire, Traditional Irish Fiddle, Outlet SOLP 1006. Also issued as The Best of Sean McGuire Outlet OLP 1006, 1971. Reissued as Outlet PTICD 1006. With Josephine Keegan (piano). Sleeve notes by David Evans. Contents: Rita Johnson ; Miss Flanagan (reels) – Jack Rowe ; Gatehouse maid (jigs) – Mahoney's fancy (reel) – Gun in the thatch ; Sailor's bonnet (reels) – Murphy's hornpipe—Galway rambler ; London lassies (reels) – Boys of the twenty-five ; Dillon Brown's fancy (reels) – Sligo maid ; Tommy Gunn's fancy reel (reels) – Tom Ginley's favourite (hornpipe) – Paidin O'Rafferty ; Morrison's jig (jigs) – Rialto (hornpipe) – Excelsior ; Mason's apron (hornpipe)[5]
  • Seán McGuire and Roger Sherlock with Josephine Keegan, At Their Best, Outlet SOLP 1008, 1970 or 1971. Liner notes by Dave Evans. Reissued as Outlet PTICD 1008. Contents: Conlon's dream ; Roger Sherlock's fancy (reels) – Ash plant ; Matt Molloy's – Fry's britches (jig) – Fancy fair ; Independent (hornpipe) – Morrisson's No. 1 & 2 (jigs) – Captain rock ; Snake (reels) – Boy in the boat ; Toss the feathers (reels) – Farewell to Kilroe (reel) – Bride in her shift ; 2​12 new pence (jigs) – Chief O'Neill's fancy ; Cuckoo (hornpipe) – Unfortunate rake ; Knight of St. Patrick (jigs) – Bank ; Gauger (reels) – Gatehouse maid ; Sligo maid (reels).[6][7]
  • Seán McGuire and Joe Burke. Two Champions, SOLP 1014, 1971. Also issued as Seán McGuire and Joe Burke. With Josephine Keegan (piano). Recorded at the Rustic Inn, Abbeyshrule, County Longford. Sleeve notes by Dale Evans. Reissued as Outlet PTICD 1014, no date (ca. 1990s). Contents: Farl O'Gara ; Trim the velvet—The copper plate no. 1 ; The copper plate no. 2 – The old grey goose—The crooked road to Dublin ; The concert—The flowing tide ; The Galway—Dr. Gilbert ; The queen of the May—The old blackthorn ; The green groves—Paddy Ryan's dream ; The Ballinasloe Fair—Burying poteen ; The cup of tea—The Kesh jig ; Morrison's – Cronin's ; George White's fancy—Tomorrow morning ; The friendly visit—Tom Clark's fancy ; The Longford collector—Ships are sailing ; The bird in the bush.[8][9]
  • Seán McGuire, Ireland’s Champion Fiddler, Outlet SOLP 1031. Reissued as PTICD 3031.
  • Seán McGuire, Man of Achievement, Top Spin, 1975. Reissued as Outlet PTICD 1052, 1988.
  • Seán McGuire, From the Archives, Outlet OAS 3017, 1979. Notes by Donal O'Baioll. Contents: Matt Molloy's/The first month of summer (2:50) – The eureka (1:38) – The flax in bloom/Dickie gossip (3:04) – The Lincoln/The hawk (3:00) – The Munster lass/King's fancy (2:20) – Crowley's medley (2:46) – The Donegal reel/Ballinasloe fair (2:55) – The high level (1:40) – Lord Gordons (3:00) – Boulavogue (2:58) – Loch Gowna/The wheels of the world (2:55) – The salamanca (2:09).[10]
  • Seán and Jim McGuire, Brothers Together, Outlet PTICD 1055, 1994 also issued by Outlet or catalogued by libraries under the alternate title Pure traditional Irish fiddle music. Track listing at Album contents according to OCLC are: John Donnelly's fancy : reel—Paddy on the railroad ; The end house in Connaught : reels—Jubilee hornpipe—Tom Anderson's tune—O'Byrne's fancy ; The pathfinder : reels—Marty's jig ; Hinchies delight ; Redwood : jigs—Grant's reel—Rince an ghainimh : reel—The maid behind the bar ; The maid of the house ; The de'il among the tailors : reels—McCormack's hornpipe—Waltz of the fireflies—Forbes' reel—McCormack's no. 2 ; The Galway hornpipe—The harp : reel.[11]
  • Seán McGuire, Hawks and Doves of Irish Culture, PTICD 1089.

Included in compilations:

  • Airs of Ireland, Outlet SOLP 1035, 1977.
  • Festival of Traditional Irish Music, Outlet Records CHCD 1037, 1994.
    • Reissued as discs 7 and 8, titled "Festival of Traditional Irish," of the 10-CD package Celtic Souls. Irish Celtic Ballads & Traditional Music, no date (est. 2006).


  1. ^ Ed. note: Ceili, sometimes spelled ceilidh ; pronounced "KAY-ley" ; is a Gaelic term for musical gathering.
  2. ^ OCLC record 58524253 viewed on 25 and 27 July 2010
  3. ^
  4. ^ OCLC record 263928878 viewed on 23 July 2010
  5. ^ OCLC record 58525433 viewed 27 July 2010
  6. ^
  7. ^ OCLC record 58527576 viewed on 25 July 2010
  8. ^ OCLC record 32972508 viewed on 25 and 27 July 2010
  9. ^ OCLC record 11985538 viewed on 27 July 2010
  10. ^ OCLC record 58528532 viewed on 23 July 2010
  11. ^ OCLC record 49562206 viewed on 23 July 2010.

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